Monday, May 28, 2012

Daddy Joe's Beach House BBQ & Grill in Gaffney, SC - Review

Daddy Joe's Beach House BBQ and Grill

My son and I were headed to the Brenau University BBQ festival when we saw the road signs for Daddy Joe's Beach House BBQ & Grill in Gaffney, South Carolina. What should you eat on the way to a barbecue bash? Well . . . barbecue of course.

Daddy Joe's is right off I85 (about a mile off the exit). You'll see the billboards, and it's close the big peach shaped and painted water tower which is darn hard to miss.

The name is kind of confusing, because trust me, you are not near the beach in Gaffney, although you kind of get that feel at Daddy Joe's sans the ocean.

Ceiling at Daddy Joe's BBQ Restaurant

Daddy Joe's has that cool factor but not over the top so that it feels fake. We ate inside below this fan you see in the photo above (plus AC - so I was almost chilly). They had outdoor seating too. But, it was in the 90s, so we decided not to melt on the porch, although it did look like a fun place to have a meal.

They had a pretty meaty menu. In fact, I could not find the sides. The waitress showed me the single line with sides. I would not be sending my vegetarian friends to Daddy Joe's, but I don't have many veggie buddies. I live in a real small Southern town, and I suspect the vegetarians just give up and move to cities.

Guys Having a Meat Mosh at Daddy Joe's Gaffney, SC

We went for the pork, since that's the big deal meat here in the piedmont of North Carolina (and since I write about BBQ). That puts some pressure on a BBQ joint outside the area, since we have top notch chopped pork all around us here. I don't mention that I blog though, so that's neither here nor there. I'm just the odd woman that pulls out her camera and shoots her food before diving in.

Chopped Pork Platter at Daddy Joe's BBQ & Grill

First, I'll speak to the pork. Oink. It was excellent. Nice smoke flavor. It was lightly sauced with a western North Carolina style barbecue sauce (vinegar with a little red and body). South Carolina is kind of all over the place on sauces. You might get vinegar or mustard or thick Kansas style. Good thing to ask if you have a preference. The kitchen sauce and table sauce were both NC vinegar with some tomato, so I felt right at home.

The hush puppies were the sweet kind I like. Some people will tell you that real Southern cornbread products don't have any sugar. Well, shut my mouth. That just ain't true. My Grandma put sugar in hers, and she's now gone, but no one can tell me she wasn't a darn fine Southern cook. My family does about 1 tablespoon of sugar to a 12 inch pone of cornbread in cast iron. Not very sweet - but a tickle of it. These hushpuppies were a little north of that but not like those box mixes where you get corn cake or some sort that tastes nothing of corn or anything else known to man or woman. So, to cut to the chase, those were some rocking hush puppies.

They put my slaw on the side by request as I'm just not a slaw fan. I know my Southern card may get revoked for telling that. Raw cabbage in gunk just doesn't do it for me. I did taste the slaw which was red which made me think it was a vinegar BBQ sauce based slaw which I can tolerate better than mayo based ones. Wrong on that. This slaw was rather dry. I think I could jam it in a red Solo cup and make sandcastles. Also, it was very sweet. All I can think of to describe the slaw is finely chopped cabbage with a Kraft sauce like honey style stirred in lightly. Sweet sand comes to mind. Remember though that I'm not a slaw fan. I'm sure lots of people love the slaw at Daddy Joe's. Me? Just pass the vinegar sauce, and I'm good.

I was surprised to find really good chopped pork barbecue outside of North Carolina, but Daddy Joe's was excellent. The ribs and kielbalsa looked good too. Yes. I peaked at the table next to us. I'd certainly stop here again. Great food and service and an easy stop on a road trip off I85.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Barbecue Master Meets Myron Mixon at Brenau BBQ Competition

Myron Mixon at the Brenau University BBQ Comp in Georgia

When I decided to drive down for the Brenau University BBQ Festival, I noticed that Myron Mixon would be there. He's a legend in BBQ and on Pitmasters on TV. Although I'm not the groupie type, I was hoping I'd get a chance to meet someone who does barbecue for a living. That's a pretty cool job huh?

If you're not familiar with Myron Mixon (gasp), then he's kind of the bad boy of the group on the TV show. He's always talking smack. But, some of my barbecue friends told me he's actually a good guy in person. I know how the media can "spin," so that made sense.

Jack's Old South Barbecue Team with Myron Mixon

First I'd note that Mixon is with Jack's Old South Barbecue Team on the comp circuit. Believe me, no single guy is setting up like this and pulling a full pig on and off a smoker on his own. That would be like white water rafting with only one guy in a six man boat. Or like when the boys were little and some company put me and two little elementary school boys in a big raft and let us go. I ended up under the raft jammed against a rock. No. Big time barbecue is a team sport.

I introduced myself to the team bouncer. Just kidding. I think I spoke first to a top level pitmaster and told him that I'm a freelance writer. Many people still seem to think that freelance means "out of work hack." WRONG. In any case, the guy you see sitting to the left in the chair read me the riot act. I should do this and than and not do that and . . . and . . . and

"I'm not trying to sound mean," said my new friend.

Being the wicked person I am and also being quick on my feet and with words, I said, "Ah, you must be Myron's brother."

This confused my new friend, because he does not look like Myron Mixon, and there would be no reason for me to draw that conclusion.

"Uh, no," said the pitmaster (and looking confused).

"Oh, I thought since you're being mean to me, you must be Myron's brother," I said. Now, I said this with a straight face and Southern grace. But, my pitmaster friend understood me and had to work hard at not looking amused. You know how guys look when they want to laugh but are just too macho to do so.

After that we were "good." This wasn't my first rodeo, and I'm not the type to be obnoxious (unless forced to be). I've never bothered or annoyed any barbecue team except maybe one. Some chick snapped at me once when I was standing way back and getting a photo. That's OK. I gave that team their due on placing second (and the rest of the crew really were nice), but I did not link them in the article. They sell grills; I don't sell anything. So, I didn't need a photo, but they could have used a link. Karma (-:

The pitmaster flagged me down and tipped me off that Myron was on site, so I was able to meet him and get a photo. See. I did charm the pitmaster with humor. And, I do understand that they do get jerks who suck up time and energy and get in the way. I don't do that. I'm in and out but available if someone has time to talk more.

Myron Mixon and Cyndi Allison

As you can see, Myron is a sport. I said "hi" and had my son shoot a photo. My Facebook friends were expecting me to have a Myron/Cyndi shot. I mean really . . . who wouldn't want to have a picture with the Barbecue Master? It's five minutes maybe and good publicity and free since barbecue is my hobby and not my job. I do write professionally, but Barbecue Master is just my baby where I can write what I want and in my own Southern voice. If I want to earn bucks, I do technical writing or dig ditches.

I can now attest that Myron Mixon is a really nice Southern guy. He does have a heart and manners. And, he really does kick butt. Well, really he kicked whole hog and won the Brenau top title this year. Congratulations Myron and Jack's Old South and especially my pitmaster friend who did not tell me his name (but I'd know him if I saw him). Someone needs to send me his name and tell him I thought he was adorable in that evil eye sort of way (-: Thanks pitmaster guy who tried hard not to like me. I just grow on people like that.

  Mixon Book and Sauces at Brenau Festival

As an added bonus, I got to meet Myron's wife and daughter. They were working a vendor booth with Myron's new barbecue book and sauces. You could get a pork sandwich too, but I was so full that I could hardly waddle so couldn't eat another bite of pork (or anything else) by this point.

Myron has a beautiful wife and daughter and both were delightfully friendly. It was a pleasure to chat with both ladies and to see the people that mean the most to Myron. I just wish I'd asked them for a photo, because you can't see much in this one )-:

I bought a bottle of Jack's Old South Tangy Sweet Rib Sauce. It has all kinds of fruits in there, and I can't wait to try it out. Could be a while though. I have an online class going and a trip to Missouri to meet up with my Winter Grillin friends. No. It's not winter. We hang all year round. Next week will be our first group face-to-face meet up and grill-a-thon.

Cyndi - enjoying her road tripping summer

Brenau Barbecue Festival Gainesville, Georgia - Supporting College Students

Brenau University 4th Annual Barbecue Championship Festival

I spent the weekend at the Brenau University BBQ Championship in Gainsville, Georgia. I'm a backyard griller and writer, but I enjoy hitting a couple of competitions every year. Usually I pick a local one, but when Jim Barco (who planned the event) told me that he graduated from the college where I teach and that the funds raised at this event would go toward scholarships for the students, I decided this was one I had to go check out.

Brenau University in Gainsville, Georgia

Brenau is a traditionally all girls' college but with a few males now that they have university status. My 22-year-old son had figured this out before we headed out. He's good about his research and also was a great note taker at this barbecue event.

As you can see above, Brenau is a beautiful campus. It's small and charming and looks like a safe and nice place to study.

 Brenau Students

I took some time to talk to a couple of students from Brenau - Daniella and Lindsay (from the volleyball team). They were both quite charming. The young ladies said that they were helping with the BBQ festival, because the money earned helps keep them in school. I'm sure my readers can appreciate that. College is expensive, and it's nice when we can help students out and even nicer when students are willing to spend break time pitching in to help themselves and their classmates.

  Robinson's Rumps Team Getting Pork Butts Ready for the Smoker

There usually aren't a whole lot of people at barbecue competitions the night before, because that's prep time. For me, it's my favorite time though, because the teams have time to chat and joke around. And, barbecue people do tend to be fun and funny.

I wandered around with my note pad and camera and checked out the prep and also some of the "anything butt" (grilled or smoked foods that don't involve pork). Teams were doing everything from smoked oysters and chicken wings to apple fritters and bacon wrapped chicken with hot peppers. They had an informal competition just for fun for that category with the fritters taking first prize.

Pull My Pork - Winnner of "The Most Fun" Award from Barbecue Master

My favorite group was Pull My Pork. Ryan (the guy in the middle) kept their tent rolicking and made my son and I feel like family. Ryan would be like your favorite brother and likely would get you into trouble but bail you out if he could.

Pull My Pork had the food and the beverages flowing while playing cornhole and just generally having a blast in the "Backyard Braggarts" (non-professional) comp team section. I kind of doubt they got any sleep over the weekend.

Ryan hooked me up with beer when I missed the beer wagon by about 15 minutes, and he talked me into buying one of his t-shirts (for a deal). What you can't see is that on the back it says, "We Like Our Pork Pulled and Our Butts Rubbed." Now I'm thinking I better get a sharpie pen and pencil in Pork and an arrow pointing at the Butt part. See what I was talking about. Ryan could sell ice to Eskimos and could get me in trouble with Momma.

Pull My Pork didn't win any of the smoking awards, but I give them top pick for being the most fun.

Southern Smoke Barbecue - First Timers

Another of my favorite teams in the backyard group was Southern Smoke Barbecue - a couple team as you can see. They had never entered a competition before and were excited but a little nervous. They gave my son and I samples, and I must say I thought they had the best chopped pork on the lot. That was just straight up on the meat - moist and lots of flavor. I never did figure out if they had a sauce or not, and I hated to ask with them being new and maybe they didn't have sauce (or maybe they did) - still a mystery to me. In any case, they should have a prize for unsauced meat and for being the sweetest group in the field.

Bubba Grills Doctoring Up a Smoked Pig

There were professional teams at the Brenau compeition too. I watched them closely but didn't ask for any trade secrets. I could see, of course, that Bubba Grills butters up the whole hog. Yes. Those are huge chunks of butter you see. I don't even know where you buy butter chunks that big. Bubba Grills used some seasonings and a ton of bacon too. No wonder I can't drop any weight. I gained five pounds just taking the pictures.

Bubba Grills had the whole family out, or else they have a huge family (like ginormous). It looked like a family reunion back behind their work area from grandpa to an infant in a little recliner baby seat. They were right friendly, but don't step your foot back on their rug even an inch, or you will be sorry.

This group won first for pork shoulders - one of the three categories in the competition which is a Memphis BBQ Network sanctioned event.

Jack's Old South Barbecue with Myron Mixon

The overall winner at the Brenau was Jack's Old South Barbecue. You may know this group from TV where Myron Mixon is a junk talking guy who gives the other smokers grief. In person, he's really a nice guy, and his wife and daughter are delightful. I met them when I was buying a bottle of Mixon's BBQ sauce which I can't wait to try.

Skyline Contractors Took Overall in Backyard Braggarts

The overall champion for the Backyard Braggarts group was Skyline Contractors. They fed me some brisket the night before and were a real stand up group with a relaxed style. I talked to the young guy you see carving, and he told me he does roofing and lots of other home work. If he lived closer, I'd put him on speed dial. I certainly have some repair projects waiting.

Music and Other Fun at the Brenau BBQ Festival

I enjoyed music throughout the festival but especially after dark when things cooled down. It must have been close 100 degrees with our usual muggy air to go with it during the day. It was nice to kick back and relax a little and hear some good live tunes.

  Family Friendly - Lots of Fun for the Kids at Brenau

The Brenau BBQ Festival is a yearly event, and it's definately a good time for all ages. They had plenty of cool stuff for the kids to do including face painting. And, as you can see, these two little ones were having a blast making bubbles.

Barbecue Master Had a Great Time at the Brenau BBQ Festival and Competition

The weekend flew by. I had the chance to meet some wonderful barbecue people and left hot, tired, full, and happy. And, I picked up some cowboy boots and peaches on the way home. Hard to beat all that.

Thanks to Jim Barco for inviting me down to Brenau University and to eveyone for making it a special trip that I enjoyed with my son who just graduated from college last week. It's great to see a small community and college come together and do something nice that will benefit students.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Cyndi's Southern Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity to stop cussing about the things I can't change, the courage to raise cain on the stuff where I can make a difference, and enough common sense to not get arrested sorting that junk out. Amen ~ Cyndi Allison

I made this up and posted it on Facebook. Thought some of my barbecue friends might need this one when you burn your steaks up or your shoulders come out dry.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How to Make Super Easy Strawberry Jam

How to Make Your Own Strawberry Jam - Really Easy Method

It's strawberry time which is one of my favorite times of the year. Although jam is not a traditional barbecue dish, it is good topped on pork loin or pork chops. Also my son and buddies were wanting this recipe, so I wanted to share one of our family favorites today.

After we’ve had our fill of raw berries, berries over ice cream, and pies, we usually have a few berries left over. I suppose we could freeze berries, but they don’t freeze as well as some fruits. A better option for our family has been to make jam.

I really hate all-day kitchen jobs and big hot canners, so I go with a quick and easy microwave jam recipe. In less than a half hour, I whip up a few small jars of jam that taste like heaven. If you’ve only used store jams, then you’ll be surprised at how much better homemade tastes. Just thinking about that strawberry jam in our refrigerator makes me want to toast a couple of slices of bread.

If you have some extra berries going begging, then try out this tasty strawberry jam recipe.

Super Easy Strawberry Jam

  • 2 cups of strawberries capped and cut up
  • 1 ½ cups of sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of pectin

How to Make Easy Strawberry Jam

Pour the sugar over the berries and let sit for 10 minutes. Mash well. Stir in pectin. Microwave high for 4 minutes. Then, microwave medium for 6 minutes. Pour in hot glasses or cups. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Keeps for 2-3 months in fridge.

Tips for the Kitchen Challenged (So You Will Be Sure to Rock Your Homemade Jam)

If you’ve never bought pectin, it’s what makes the jam set up or jell. It comes in boxes like pudding or jello. Around here, it’s with canning supplies on the isle with baggies and tin foil. The brand name that is most common is Sure-Jell.

Use a big glass or microwave safe bowl to mix this up. If you’re familiar with the Tupperware three bowl set or the standard glass bowls with three bowls, you’ll need to biggest size. The bowl looks too big, but this stuff bubbles up really high when microwaved.

The sugared berries want to slide around, so it’s hard to mash with a fork or whatever you usually use to mash. A biscuit cutter works really well. Again, the big bowl helps. The mix is shallow so that you can use the biscuit cutter.

To heat the glasses, take a metal cake pan (8 x 8 or 9 x 9) and put that on top of a stove eye with about a quarter inch of water. Lay your glasses in that with the water heated to where it has lots of little bubbles on top but not boiling up. Roll the glasses around so all sides are heated and sterilized. With the small amount of water, you can use a oven mitt to roll and then to pull the glasses out.

The glasses I use are the little ones that hold the dried beef. They are like little juice glasses. The recipe makes 5 of these filled to about a ½ inch from the top.

To pour into these small holes, you may want to pour the hot jam into a pitcher. It’s a little hard to hit the holes without making a mess with a spoon.

Let the jam cool in the jars for 20 minutes or so before putting plastic wrap over the top of the jars. It sticks close and keeps the jam fresh.

This is a fast and really easy recipe. The jam is delicious. It’s also very pretty. You could use fancier jars or cups and come up with a nicer lid solution and give these away as gifts.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Tastefully Simple Hawaiian Dip Mix White Grilled Chicken

Tastefully Simple Hawaiian Dip Mix

Heather from Tastefully Simple was probably surprised when a barbecue writer picked a dip for a sample product. When I saw a light colored dip, I immediately thought of Alabama white chicken grilled which is likely not the same vision that dances in everyone's else head when they see white-ish creamy products.

Easy Mix Dip By Tastefully Simple

When the dip mix came in, I mixed up a pack. That's super easy. It's one half cup of mayonnaise and one half cup of sour cream mixed with one pack. Stir and you're done. You can dip with chips or with veggies. I loved this dips on carrots especially.

Chicken in Hawaiian Dip Mix

I used boneless chicken strips with the dip, because I was grilling over high heat. If you have grates set higher and the heat down lower, then you can use bigger pieces. With close high heat, then the chicken cooks fast, and sauces (and dips) can burn if the meat pieces are large.

You grill these strips just as I've mentioned on grilling chicken strips, but you may want to brush more dip on as they are grilling. I went light on the dip this first time, but I'd brush with a heavier hand next go round.

Tastefully Simple Dip Grilled Chicken

Our grilled chicken strips were fabulous and even better with more dip to the side. Don't use the dip raw chicken was sitting in, or you may get sick. Split the batch, or make up two packs.

I must warn you that this dip is really spicy. When I thought Hawaiian, I was thinking more fruity or something - certainly not zip. It's not near as spicy the first day as the second, and I think I'll make it a day ahead next time, because I loved it when the flavors melded and that heat really came out.

You could double the mayo and sour cream to tone down the heat (sorry if you know things like this - but some of my readers are just starting to play with food). I love it full on, but it is hot. It's not that bitter hot though. It's just a nice flavor burst "hot."

The Tastefully Simple Let's Luau Hawaiian dip mix is one of my favorite dips ever. It was wonderful with chip, vegetables, and on our grilled chicken. It does pack some heat, so I'd not recommend it for everyone. But, for those who like spicy foods, this would be one of my top pick dips (and also really good on the grilled chicken).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Tastefully Simple Honey BBQ Seasoning & Rub - All Natural

Tastefully Simple Honey BBQ Seasoning & Rub - All Natural

Heather told me that they had added quite a few new products to the Tastefully Simple line and wanted to know if I'd like to sample something (free in exchange for an honest review). The Honey BBQ seasoning and rub had my name written all over it. OK. Well, not really. But, I do love barbecue rubs, and honey is messy (and tends to burn on large cuts of meat) so having that in a dry rub sounded fabulous.

Harry won a ham at the turkey shoot (no - they don't shoot turkeys - they shoot at paper targets), so I thought a honey rub would taste good. Before sprinkling on the rub, I put mustard all over the ham. That's the trick to get your rub to stay on a big cut like a ham. You can't taste the mustard at the end. It just acts like a rub glue.

Ham Bone In Covered with Tastefully Simple BBQ Rub

As you can see, this rub is a beautiful color and the ingredients are all natural (can't beat that). The smell was really nice. The combination of honey and heat was obvious even at the rubbing stage.

Putting the Ham on the Bottom Level of Our Weber BBQ Smoker

Jimmy took the ham out and put it on the bottom level of our Weber smoker. We were smoking ribs too, so it was easier to put the ham on the lower level, since the ribs got sauced later.

Ham on Bottom Level of Weber Smokey Mountain Bullet

Here you can see the ham right before we pulled it off. This ham was pre-cooked, so we were basically just heating it through. At 225 to 250 degrees F, three hours worked well for heating and getting that smoked flavor in with the meat and rub.

 Tastefully Simple BBQ Rubbed Smoked Ham

The ham smoked up beautifully and smelled terrific. The rub slow smoked created a nice crispness while holding in the moisture (along with that mustard I mentioned earlier).

It's all about the flavor when it comes to barbecue, so the real test was when I sliced and served the ham. In some cases, something will look and even smell great but then doesn't really pass the taste test.

The Tastefully Simple Honey BBQ rub flavor was spot on and went well on the ham. For summer, I'd suggest pork chops or chicken (quicker to make and light tasting meats that benefit from a nice BBQ rub). On the ham, we got that holiday honey kick but with some heat (not over the top - just enough to pop). The rub is well named as it was actually "tastefully simple." The flavors were classic and simple but blended at just the right ratios to taste wonderful.

If you like honey but find that the natural sugars in there tend to burn before you finish smoking or grilling, this is a great alternative. Or, Tastefully Simple a good pick if you want a flavorful rub that delivers on the flavor without having too much of any one thing that might freak out your guests. This one is not too sweet (even with honey) and not too hot. I'd recommend it for any griller or smoker unless he or she doesn't like honey. And, who doesn't like the taste of honey?

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

El Patron mexican restaurant in Salisbury, NC - Five Stars

El Patron Mexican Grill & Cantina in Salisbury, North Carolina

I mentioned I love Mexican food (and lived down in Dallas, TX), and one of my college students told me that I had to check out El Patron. I'd never heard of the restaurant or seen it, and I've lived here all my life. That's one thing I love about college kids. They check out all the nooks and crannies.

You can Google and GPS El Patron. The address is 1030 Freeland Drive, Salisbury, NC. If you're from the Salisbury area, then just go down and turn to go to Wal-Mart. Then, turn left instead of right where you see Cracker Barrel. There is the mall-ette you see above on your left behind a gas station. There in the bend (with the flags) you will find El Patron. I'd also note that the restaurant is right off I85 on the Salisbury exit where you see Lowe's. Turn toward Salisbury and not toward Albemarle and go to the Bojangles and turn and go up to the Wal-Mart turn light.

The guys and I decided we had to go and see if El Patron was as good as my student said, so we loaded up in the SUV and went to town (a half hour haul for us).

El Patron looks like a fun place. It is!

The decor in El Patron is really cute. I can see why the college kids would enjoy going. It's bright with pretty painted wall murals and well . . . just a lot of personality. They do serve drinks, but it's a family friendly restaurant. There were quite a few kids when we visited, and El Patron was comfortable and good for all ages.

We felt welcome from the time we walked in. I still have to smile about our server. She said, "Is this your first time?" We told her it was. She smiled and said, "Mine too." I love honesty. Another server and the owner both checked behind her several times, and she was spot on. If I had a restaurant, I'd hire her in a heartbeat.

Free Chips, Salsa and Pica de Gallo for Starters

As is the custom in most Mexican restaurants, we were given chips to start off. They were perfectly fried - thin, crisp, and hot. In this area, some restaurants offer salsa and some offer Pica de Gallo. At El Patron, they brought out both. And, they were homemade fresh. In both categories, they are the best in the area. You can see what I'm talking about above.

My youngest son is a cheese freak, so we always order what he calls "cheese dip" (queso). The price was higher than typical for this area, but the bowl was about double the size. He usually goes through two bowels of his cheese dip minimum, but he only needed one at El Patron, so that actually ended up being lighter on my wallet.

On that first visit we had enchiladas, carne asada, and quesadillas. I hope I'm getting my Spanish spellings right. Mrs. Turney tried very hard in high school, but I did not excel in language class.

Quesadillas are not actually on the menu. They had no problem making those for my son (cheese freak). He ordered both a cheese and cheese/beef quesadilla. He is a college kid, and he could not even eat half the order, and they did not charge an arm and a leg. I don't think his special order was any higher than our menu plate orders. I'm not a huge quesadilla fan, but I tried a slice of his beef quesadilla, and it was the best I've had (yes - better than the ones I make at home - sad to confess).

You can see my son's quesadillas from today. This is just one, since he figured out that he couldn't eat two last time. He went with beef, and this is the only place in town where he'll eat meat on the quesadillas. The quality on the meat is just better. Remember - I tried a piece too on the first visit. So, I did check behind my son, although he's a natural born foodie.

Beef and Cheese Quesadillas at El Patron

After our first meal at El Patron, I was pretty pumped up and wanted to share this "new find" (which is actually a couple of years old). Generally, I just review barbecue joints, so I thought I'd write a review at Yelp where I note I don't get paid a cent. I just add a review there every once in a blue moon when I think I can help. I will, as I do here, tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly. Yelp seems to like the "ugly" reviews.

To my surprise, Yelp had El Patron listed as 2 stars and had "ugly" reviews up. OK. Different people like different things, and perhaps some day are better than others at a restaurant. It did strike me as odd though.

I spent about an hour writing up our experience at El Patron. I thought people should hear another voice on this wonderful little sleeper in town. But, to my shock, Yelp opted to block my review (first time ever). You need an account and must be signed in to see the blocks. I clicked to see what was going on, and Yelp blocked about 15 positive reviews on El Patron and posted up the negative reviews and only rated on those reviews.

After doing some research online, I found that other writers were noting that Yelp was selling ad spaces. Pay up, and your good review go up and bad ones (or most of them) get hidden. Don't "pay the lady" and you get racked like El Patron. Well, that stinks!

Yelp argues that they have an algorithm that catches "cheaters." Come on. Even Google can't get algorithm right. You think Yelp has a sophisticated one? Excuse me while I laugh. I "liked" El Patron on Facebook and told them what was going on with the Yelp ratings. They called Yelp and were told that it appeared employees were writing fake positive reviews. I call foul ball. I've been a writer for over 30 years, and I do not work at El Patron. In fact, I did even know they existed before the night I wrote the review they put in the deep freeze.

In any case, I did want folks to know that El Patron is a great place. I went back today in the middle of the afternoon with a camera. I identified myself as the writer who had been in touch. I had the same great service and fabulous food as before and had a chance to take some photos without disturbing customers or workers.

Today I had fajitas. I guess we can count those as grilled. Flat top. Hot heat. They were excellent, and the tortillas were fresh, soft, and hot and in a nice container that kept them that way. Here is my lunch.

 Fajitas. Notice that the vegetables are fresh here and not mushy like some places.

My side dishes were excellent as well. I always like rice. What's not to like. I spice mine up with the salsa. Normally I'm not a refried bean fan, but I really did like these. They had a little more heat and were not mushy like many I've had. I was also impressed with the plating on the beans, and the little shell cup added some crunch which made the beans better for me. If El Patron went on the TV show Chopped, they'd beat the other local Mexican restaurants, for sure, on plating.

Refried Beans and Mexican Rice with my Favorite Guacamole on the Side
Yes. I did enjoy my meal. And, yes, I did pay for my meal. Usually I don't mention that I'm a reviewer and blogger. I don't want special treatment. I want to see the real deal so that I can write up fair reviews. In this case, I arrived with a camera during the off hours, and I had been in touch on Facebook. My server was the grandson. I'd met the grandfather the first visit as he checked the table on his new server. And, the father also came out to say hello today. So, in this rare case, it made sense to introduce myself. Otherwise, they might have been wise to have called the police to report a strange woman on the premises.

Cyndi Eating at El Patron in Salisbury, North Carolina

As we were ready to leave, we were surprised with free dessert. I rated these guys five stars at Yelp on the first visit, so they didn't have to do anything extra to impress me. But, I must say the fried cheese cake (Xango) was fabulous. I usually don't have room for dessert, and I really didn't. But, I made an exception. This was a great dessert.

Cyndi Getting Her Xango On

I have to show you a close up of the fried cheese cake. The cheese cake was wrapped in the burritos and fried. Then, there was cinnamon and sugar on the outside and chocolate. Also - ice cream and whipped cream.

Yum. Fried Cheese Cake is Really, Really Good

I would not have thought to order Xango, but I'm glad I got to share that with my son. We both loved it. We also have a super cheesecake fan in the family, so I know where his birthday dinner will be this next year. He'll go wild for Xango.

My son and I had a great afternoon eating at El Patron's and getting a chance to talk to staff when things weren't busy. This is a family business, and they are doing a top notch job. The food does have am American slant, but it's creative, and it does capture the spirit and fun of the original cuisine. It's also fresh, hot, and well prepared. The service is terrific. They also cater. What more could you ask for?

Well, I guess I could break out the guitar and sing a happy song. So, here you go . . .

Cyndi Singing Praises for El Patron in Salisbury, North Carolina

If you're in the or near the Salisbury area, I'd highly recommend checking out El Patron. I don't put my name down, unless I mean it. Count me a fan. Headed back soon.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Brenau BBQ Championship - Georgia - May 25-26 2012

Ribs on the Smoker at Brenau Barbecue Championship

"It's said of Southerners that we do not know strangers, rather people we haven't yet met," says Jim Barco, Senior Vice President of Brenau University in Gainesville, Georgia. He'll be meeting many old friends and new ones at the 4th annual Brenau BBQ Championship.

Jim dropped me an email after reading about my love of barbecue on the Catawba College website. That's where I teach, and it just happens to be where Jim graduated with a degree in business in 1977. He thought I might like to attend the college barbecue competition with the proceeds going to scholarships for kids in the area. Now, how could I pass that up?

Having been a student at Catawba College, Jim knows barbecue - the slow smoked kind that does not include burgers and hot dogs on the menu. The college is located right in the heart of North Carolina western or Lexington style barbecue country (slow smoked pork shoulders, chopped and served on a bun with a tangy vinegar sauce). He noted that it's the law that you love BBQ in North Carolina, and said: "I think the requirement is in the state constitution."

Officials at Brenau were not so sure about a barbecue fundraiser in the beginning, but now the event has become a campus favorite - getting larger every year. They even have TV barbecue superstar Myron Mixon on board for the competition, and you know he plans to win. And, I plan to snag Myron for a photo.

About the Brenau Barbecue Festival

The event is held on the Brenau campus. It's a small university with under 3000 students, but they open the doors to over 5000 people on barbecue weekend. Everyone pitches in, and it's kind of like a family reunion but a really big family.

The Memphis Barbecue Network sanctioned competitions is for both professional teams (like Dixie Que and Bubba Grills - 20 total) as well as back yard barbecuers (30 teams). Jim said the backyard barbecue guys (and girls) are welcome to practice at his house and year round. I'm sure he'd be fine with Myron dropping by and cranking out some barbecue ribs too.

The event this year kicks off on May 25 with music by Drippin' Wet. This is when the barbecue folks begin set up, prep, and dig in for a long night of smoker tending. Although I've never been a competition person (my area is home grilling/smoking and writing), I enjoy hanging out behind the scenes and gathering stories and photos.

Ready for a Day of Barbecue Fun at Brenau University

Saturday May 26th is the main event with the gates open at 10 am. In addition to the scoring and bragging rights (and barbecue guys are good about that), there's a full day of family fun including music, a classic car show, and lots of fun activities for the kids. Vendors are on hand with all kinds of yummy food, and you can also get handmade crafts (good early Christmas shopping opportunity for those who think ahead like that).

If you're in or close the Atlanta area, then Brenau is about 50 miles outside the city. It would be a good road trip and also means that more young people get a chance to go to college at one of the top 15-best higher education universities in terms of value according to U.S. News & World Report.

I'll be headed that way, and I hope my son can make it. He's getting really good with a camera, and I could use a shutterbug while I'm taking notes. If you see me there at the Brenau University Barbecue Competition, be sure to say "hi" and share some que stories.

Here is more information on the Brenau BBQ along with directions and a schedule.